MSU Bikes’ Free Quick Tips Clinics

winter cycling workshop scene

Volunteer instructors Eddie and John helping Chloe get her bike ready for winter riding.

Cabin fever?  Eager to ride your bike this spring?

Learn to get your bike ready yourself with a little help from MSU Bikes!

Come to the MSU Bikes Service Center and learn some quick tips for getting your bike ready to ride and simple repairs that require very few tools or special skills. Each FREE 1-hr. session will cover a different set of topics plus one open session: changing flats, proper lubing/ oiling, proper fit, adjusting your brakes/ shifters, tool-free adjustments of your brakes/ shifters while riding, and emergency wheel repair/ intro to wheel truing (see below for agenda).  Your instructor will be Tim Potter, MSU Bikes’ Sustainable Transportation Manager.


Classes will all be held at the MSU Bikes Service Center and start at 5:30 pm and focus on the following:

Session Details:

101: Proper lubing, changing flats, proper fit – Feb. 16, 2015 – FULL
102: Proper lubing, tool-free adjustments of your brakes/ shifters while riding – Feb. 23 – FULL
103: Tool-free adjustments of your brakes/ shifters while riding, basic wheel truing/ emergency wheel repairs – Mar. 2 – FULL
104: Basic wheel truing/ emergency wheel repairs, other emergency road repair tips (what to pack in your on-bike tool kit) – Mar. 16 – FULL
105: Basics and/or intermediate (depending on student’s experience) of bike commuting – riding tips and gear considerations – Mar. 23
106: Open class format – ask your own questions and specific bike issues or repeat of earlier session – Mar. 30

RSVPs/ Cancellations:

Tim showing some young riders how to change a tube

Tim showing some young riders how to change a tube

Yes, these 1-hr. workshops will be free, but will require RSVPs (using this Doodle scheduler) as they’ll be limited to 10 people per session. You can bring your bike with you if you’d like to practice on your own bike or have it looked at.

If we don’t get at least 3 people per session they’ll be cancelled. PLEASE include your email address with your name so we can let you know if it’s cancelled, or other last minute things that might arise.

Thoughts on Bike Lights

Momentum article "Bike Lights"

Momentum article “Bike Lights” Sept/Oct. 2010 issue; click to view online.

After reading the excellent “Bike Lights” article in Momentum’s Sept/Oct 2010 issue by Jonathon Reynolds which shares some research on when/where most bike accidents occur, I’d like to comment on the topic.

There’s a common misconception that you only need lights when it’s dark or getting dark.  Due to almost getting hit in the middle of the day by a driver, whom I believe simply didn’t see me in the dark shadows of a tree (some people’s eyes don’t adjust very quickly to extreme lighting changes), I have since strongly encouraged people to use flashing lights, front and rear, whenever they ride and not just when it’s getting dark. There’s a good reason why many newer motor vehicles have lights that come on automatically whenever the engine is running; they’re called “Daytime Running Lights”.  While US car manufacturers have effectively lobbied against requiring them many European countries have enacted legislation requiring them on motor vehicles while at least one, Germany, requires front and rear lights be working at all times on bicycles.

Don't be a Ninja on a bike!

Don’t be a Ninja cyclist! Be SEEN and LIVE! Click image to learn more from the Tempe AZ Bicycle Action Group.

Additionally, people should definitely stick with lights that have easily rechargeable batteries or USB rechargeable so that they’re more likely to use the lights all the time rather than trying to conserve batteries.  We stock many affordable lights at MSU Bikes and can special order just about any other light on the market.

Finally, I see way too many cyclists riding around with lights that are hardly visible, or hanging off a backpack often pointing to the ground, apparently thinking “I’ve got a light, I’m safe”, but apparently have no idea how invisible they are.  I’m not sure if it’s the nature of rechargeable batteries or the modern LED lights, but it’s also best to have backup lights on the rear and front as I’ve had them look bright at the start of my commute home only to discover they died sometime during my ride.

So, be sure to check your lights often and recharge or replace those batteries to stay alive!  And make sure they’re aimed properly down the road so they’re actually visible to motorists.


Selection of strong widely available tail lights. click for excellent review of tail lights. We stock many affordable lights at MSU Bikes.

Sidewalk Bicycling vs. Bike lanes – the debate rages on

Joy ride on the newly updated MSU S. River path

Joy ride on the newly updated MSU S. River path

There’s been considerable press in the State News and discussion this fall (2014) about bike safety and rules after some pretty serious accidents earlier in the semester and the subsequent launch of the MSU Police bike/ pedestrian safety campaign.  Was even included in an Impact 89FM radio show with a MSU Police officer (Randy Holton) who coordinated the aforementioned campaign earlier this week (our part of the show starts at 18:45 (have to download the show and open w/ Windows Media Player or other player to see the time).

All of this has caused me to reflect on where we’re at as a university in terms of improving bike and pedestrian safety; are we becoming a more ‘Bike Friendly University‘? MSU received a bronze BFU award in 2010, but what has changed over the past 3+ years?

S. River Path near Erickson Kiva, summer 2012

Photo of the chaos during class change on S. River Path near Erickson Kiva, summer 2012.  Click pic to watch a video of bike/ped chaos from 2012 at Shaw and Farm Ln.

Well, on the visibly obvious front, we’re up from approx. 50% of our campus roads having bike lanes in 2010 to over 70% today which is phenomenal progress considering we had NO on-road bike lanes in the year 2000 when the university made the decision to adopt what has become known as a “Complete Streets” policy for campus roads (CS is now fully incorporated into our current Campus Master Plan).  MSU opened its first “complete street” at the end of the summer: W. Circle Dr.  After a massive construction project over last summer it’s now completely safe and designed for ALL legal road users!

Casual observations along the corridors where the bike lane network is almost complete (Wilson Rd. for example) and wherever bike lanes exist, make it clear that if we build them bicyclists will start to use them.  We’ve also started adding “Sharrow” markings (aka ‘shared lane bicycle marking’) on roads where there’s not currently enough width for bike lanes (see this video that was produced fall of 2013 to inform the community of these new markings).

The most recent example of physical progress: there was a hugely successful safety improvement to our campus transportation system benefiting both pedestrians and bicyclists completed in late summer 2014.   A video I created, MSU Bicycling on Unmarked Sidewalk vs Newly Redesigned River Path” shows off the benefits and real life on the newly updated S. River path; you’ll quickly see the difference between riding on a crowded sidewalk vs. the new path.  With this segment of the S. river pathway completed only one more large segment is left needing the updating to this new, safer design; the path between Farm Ln. and Bogue St.

Bicycling in the road vs. sidewalk

Like riding slow and stopping all the time?  Sidewalks are for YOU!  Want to get somewhere faster than walking?  Ride in the road!

A companion video features the readily and quickly obvious benefits to riding in a bike lane on the road vs. riding on crowded, disorganized and chaotic sidewalks: Riding in a Bike Lane vs. Sidewalk Bicycling at MSU”.

Bear in mind that the benefits & advantages of riding in the road continue even on roads without bike lane markings.  Bicyclists also have a legal right to ride in the road and a legal responsibility to ride in the road (WITH the direction of traffic, AND obeying the same traffic rules as other legal road users) NOT on the sidewalks on campus.

Yes, we’ve still got plenty of work to do on campus (as this video of pedestrians and bikes mixing it up at Farm Ln. and S. Shaw Ln. shows).  There are some critical roads on campus without bike lanes remaining which abruptly start and stop; they’ll be getting bike lanes, or in some cases, closed to motor vehicle traffic altogether assuming the university’s 20/20 Vision continues to be the guiding document for the coming years.

Read our “Bike Safety Tips” post for a lot more information about this important topic to help greatly reduce your chances of being involved in a crash.

Stay tuned for more progress reports on our ‘Bike Friendliness’.

Winter Cycling Tips & Information

Cycling in the winter (yes, it’s here!) can be full of challenges and yet also very gratifying if you’re prepared.  Wet and slippery conditions, poor lighting, distracted drivers, and cold temperatures can all make your ride more difficult but they also make your driving more difficult and dangerous as well, right?  You don’t need to put your bike away until spring, however. Read on for tips on how to make winter riding more enjoyable and safer.

If you’re just not interested in riding through the winter, do your bike a big favor and store it indoors where it won’t get all rusted, stolen or vandalized (or accidentally hit by a snow plow).  MSU Surplus offers storage services for bikes (and just about anything else for that matter!).  Click here for more information.  Many residence halls also have indoor bike rooms which are first-come first-serve, so check with your hall’s front desk and see if you can get a key for yours.

Here are some photos of one of our year-round bicyclists, Thomas Baumann, showing off his bike, accessories and related gear.  More tips and information further below.

Tim's winter bike

Tim’s winter bike

Pics of Tim’s latest winter bike, an early ’80s Schwinn Sierra mountain bike, can be seen here.  ’80’s MTBs make perfect winter bikes for many reasons:  they’re quite cheap, they’re made like tanks (that is, to survive brutal treatment and extreme conditions), they have lots of room around the tires to allow for full coverage fenders and studded tires!

Stay Upright, Be Seen and Live

Winter is a hazardous time to be on the roads for everyone, not just bicyclists.  Falling snow, ice on windshields, fogged up windshields, blinding glare,  low lighting etc. will also dramatically affect the ability of motorists to see you.  Drivers may also be distracted by poor road conditions, phones, etc.  Assuming that drivers don’t see you is a good attitude any time of the year no matter whether you ride in the road (with or without bike lanes) or on the sidewalks/ paths.  Here’s a great article w/ more tips for riding safely in snowy conditions (courtesy Bike Arlington).

Be safe, be seen!

Be safe, be seen! Tim wears a safety vest in addition to using lights in case his batteries burn out and for increased visibility from all directions.

So you need to be sure you’re highly visible.  Although lights and bright clothing are recommended year round, they are especially critical during winter months. Use a flashing white light on your handlebar and a flashing red light on your back or seat-post to draw attention to yourself.  Here is a series of articles comparing the brightness and run-time of different headlights and tailights (many of which we stock here; most we can order), and another new article re: updating older taillights with modern LED bulbs (in case you have an older bike using incandescent bulbs). Remember to also ride responsibly and intelligently.  Bicyclists get full legal protection as a vehicle of the road when they’re riding on the road and behaving according to the laws/ rules of the road (e.g., riding your bike through a pedestrian crosswalk is NOT protected).  Assuming that drivers don’t see you is a good attitude any time of the year no matter whether you ride in the road (with or without bike lanes) or on the sidewalks/ paths.  Falling snow, ice on windshields, fogged up windshields, etc. will also dramatically affect the ability of motorists to see you.

Stay Upright with Studded Tires:

Studded tires can be very helpful for keeping you upright on icy roads. They can be expensive however, so handy folks may want to consider making their own. MSU Bikes’ Tim Potter crafted a pair for his own winter commuter:

Notes on DIY studded tires:

Tim's DIY front studded tire

Tim’s DIY front studded tire – click pic for more pics of Tim’s winter bike (2012 version).

I was under the mistaken assumption that as long as I ride in a straight line and make no quick turns that I’ll be OK on ice. Well, recently I crashed on some black ice while going straight ahead. That changed my mind on studded tires immediately. I priced commercially available studded tires and found they were expensive. So, I made some myself in about one-and-a-half hours, and they work great and last longer than I expected despite what is written about non-carbide tipped studs. DIY instructions that I used can be found here.  Note: these instructions only work with tires like the one pictured as you need to have a large knob to screw into, most common on 24″, 26″ or 29’er MTB tires.  So, no, this won’t work for 700c tires as there aren’t any made with such large knobs that I know of.

Here are some top-secret tweaks to those instructions: I screwed #6 x 3/8” sheet metal screws (a box of 100 costs $5 from a good hardware store) from the outside in, just like in the instructions, and then used an old tire carcass (after cutting off the beads — use a smooth tread tire) to line the inside of the tire to cover up the protruding tips to protect the tube (be sure and overlap the tire liner by 1/2″ at least to cover all the sharp points).  While this modification makes the wheels quite a bit heavier, it provides another great benefit: the tires are now effectively “run-flats.” Since there’s so much rubber inside the tire, you can keep riding if you get a flat. If you can find #4 x 1/4” screws, you probably won’t need a liner.

Another option for even better traction consider Kold Kutter ice screws, which motorcycle ice racers have used for years; they come in a small 3/8″ size for only $20 and change through College Bike Shop, Lansing or any good motorcycle shop I’m sure.  Remember: In the winter, you’re not trying to break speed records as much as stay alive!

Bar Mitts keep your hands toasty warm but allow you to use thinner gloves to work your controls better.

Bar Mitts keep your hands toasty warm but allow you to use thinner gloves to work your controls better. 
‘Borealis’ lobster gloves from Planet Bike

Stay Comfortable

It’s cold out there. Winter air stings eyes and turns fingers into meat popsicles. Sloppy road slush tends to end up all over pantlegs and backsides.

Don’t arrive at your destination soaking wet and half frozen. Fenders come in full coverage models and easy to attach clip-on models. Some rear fenders are designed with quick-release attachments that don’t require tools for installation. For your hands, try a pair of “lobster” gloves or mittens.  The three or four fingered design helps retain body heat and keep your digits warm. Many cyclists also find ski or chem-lab goggles helpful in keeping the cold air out of their eyes.

Keep Your Equipment in Working Order

A properly locked U-lock

Keep the opening to the lock mechanism facing down to reduce rusting and freezing of the lock.

Rusted and frozen parts are one of the most common issues we see in the shop during the winter. Moisture inside cable housing can cause freezing and corrosion, which results in poor brake and shift performance. Water in locks can cause them to freeze shut resulting in locks that can’t be opened or keys snapping off.

Tri-flow oil - great for chains and lubricating many other parts of a bike

Tri-flow oil – great for chains and lubricating many other parts of a bike. Pedros Syn-Lube - excellent for wet,freezing conditions of winterPedros Syn-Lube – excellent for wet,freezing conditions of winter

Pick up a bottle of wet lubricant that’s designed for bicycles. (WD-40 is not a lubricant. Try TriFlow or better yet, Pedro’s Synlube which stays on longer in wet, cold conditions). Chains need to be lubed frequently during wet months. You can also drip the lube down inside cable housing to restore functionality to frozen brake and shift systems.

When locking your bike, point the keyhole of your lock toward the ground to prevent to prevent rust and ice forming inside.  A squirt of chain lube into the lock cylinder will help prevent freezing and result in smoother operation.  If you find your lock frozen use some hot water, coffee or tea and pour it slowly over the lock mechanism to thaw it enough to open it up, then be sure and dry it out with a hair dryer and then lube it to prevent it from freezing or rusting in the future.

Covered Enhanced Security Indoor Bike Parking/ Storage Options

Bike Garage @ Trowbridge Parking Ramp

Bike Garage @ Trowbridge Parking Ramp. Holds up to 23 bikes and features a DIY repair station.

Looking for a place to lock up your bike out of the rain and snow? We’ve now got two enhanced security bike parking facilities on campus called “MSU Bike Garages”; one on the north side of campus (Grand River Parking Ramp) and one on the south side (Trowbridge Parking Ramp).  Click here to learn more about the Bike Garages.  Additionally, covered bike parking options around campus most of them inside our car parking garages. Click here to see them all.

Additionally, many of the residence halls on campus have indoor bike rooms: Holden, Wonders, Wilson, Holmes, McDonel, Akers, Hubbard, Mason/Abbot, Snyder/Phillips, Campbell, Landon, Yakeley/Gilchrist all have bike rooms (as of Nov. 2010). Inquire at your hall reception desk about using the bike rooms.  Note that the rooms use a common key so be sure and lock your bike even in these rooms.

Further Resources

More winter cycling tips and links to other sites can be found on our notes from our winter cycling class in 2010.   If you’d like to receive an email when we announce our classes this winter consider subscribing to our MSU Bikes e-newsletter here.

MSU’s Snow Removal Information

Many in the MSU community will comment on how great the sidewalks, paths and roads are in comparison to other area roads during the storms of winter.  The MSU road crew is out 24/7 to keep campus safe for everyone.  However, if you do see something on campus that needs immediate attention call the 24-hour IPF Dispatch number (517/353-1760) or email the supervisor of the snow crew:
If you’d like to learn more about MSU’s official snow removal policies check this page.  Here’s a short video on the topic by IPF.

What winter riding tips do you have to share?  Pls. comment on this blog with your thoughts/ tips/ advice!

(Updated and reposted by Tim Potter, 11/19/14)

New CATA Rep for MSU Campus

Bikes and Buses safety video

Bikes and Buses safety video

As of April 30, 2014 there is a new CATA MSU campus representative, Deb Kirby.

She’s your go-to person for any CATA related issues you observe or experience on campus.  Her email:  and campus office phone #: (517) 432-0888

FYI: Here’s a link to a very well-done video created by the Chicago ATA that CATA has been using for their driver training.
It’s also got very helpful advice for bicyclists to safely interact with buses, so take the time and watch it to learn more about staying out of trouble on our roads.

Note:  The painted-on bus #, location and time of day of an incident is critical as the digital bus route numbers change throughout the day.
Nervous about putting your bike on a CATA bus rack?

Using the CATA bus bike racks

Using the CATA bus bike racks

CATA has a great web page describing their bike-related services including using the bike racks on all of their buses.  Watch this (non-CATA) video to see how easy it is!  The racks in the video may be slightly different than CATA’s but it’ll give you a real good idea of how easy it is.

Bike lockers are also available for rent at the CATA Transportation Center (CTC), downtown Lansing, 420 South Grand Ave.  The units are located on the northeast side of the building.

Bike Safety Tips & Legal Resources

Don't be a Ninja cyclist!  Be SEEN and LIVE!

Don’t be a Ninja cyclist! Be SEEN and LIVE!
Click for more info.

The most important thing when it comes to being safe on your bike is avoiding an accident, particularly ones with motor vehicles that can be very serious.  So, we want to first focus your attention on how you can best be seen while riding which is one of the things in your control and easily addressed.

Be Seen with Lights & Bright Clothing

Watch this video to understand why it’s important to stand out from your environment.  Trust me, you DON’T want to be the bear if a car driver doesn’t notice you.  Wear the brightest clothing you can find ALL THE TIME; safety-vests rock if you’d rather not flip for a new jacket.

State of MI bicyclist crash facts for 2012.

“78.9 percent of all bicyclists in motor vehicle crashes and 15 of the 20 bicyclists killed were riding during daylight hours.”  Mich. Traffic Crash Facts for 2012.

We’re also very big on good lighting for your bike, especially if you commute or ride In the road (as you should) around campus. We stock a good selection of strong headlights and rear lights to fit any budget (and can special order better ones).  A tail light is required by Michigan State Law when riding after dark, but if you ask any commuter or experienced bicyclist, they’ll advise you to run with tail and head lights (strobe is best) all day (use rechargeable batteries or the USB rechargeable type lights and you don’t have to worry about the expense of replacing batteries).

Why use lights during the day?  Well, when you ride in and out of dark shadowy areas of the roads you can become almost invisible to a motorist who’s eyes haven’t adjusted to the darkness in that split second which could cost you dearly.  A report published by the Mich. Dept. of Transportation summarizing crash statistics for 2012 are very sobering; “78.9 percent of all bicyclists in motor vehicle crashes and 15 of the 20 bicyclists killed were riding during daylight hours.” A summary of data for 2013 crashes are now available here which again found “peak hours for bicyclist involvement in crashes were from 3:00-5:59 PM”.

Picking a Safe Route


Over 90% of all reported bike accidents are the result of sidewalk bicycling on the MSU campus! (courtesy of MSU Photography Services)

Choosing a safe route is probably the most important key to your safety as a cyclist. Our biggest piece of advice: Stay off the sidewalks.  Why? It is against most city ordinances to ride bikes on sidewalks (including the MSU Campus Ordinance) as it’s more dangerous for everyone including the bicyclist.  If you’re going more than 10 mph, even if there are no bike lanes, you have a legal right to ride in the road (just make sure you’re highly visible, ride in the same direction as motor vehicle traffic and follow the same rules of the road as motor vehicles).

It seems safer to ride on the sidewalks but cars just don’t check sidewalks for bicyclists when they approach a roadway to make a turn and, on our campus as with most of the cities in the State of Michigan you have NO LEGAL PROTECTION if you do get hit while riding your bike through a cross-walk as a pedestrian as you’re required to be walking your bike to be legally considered a pedestrian.  National statistics as well as our own campus research show that the overwhelming majority of bike-auto accidents occur when the bicyclist is riding on a sidewalk.

Don't be a "Salmon"!

Don’t be a bike “Salmon”! Always ride with the direction of motor vehicle traffic even if you have to ride on the sidewalk.

We’ve noticed an increase in cases of wrong-way bicycling, that is riding against traffic, particularly where there bike lanes.  This is very dangerous for both the wrong-way bicyclist and other bicyclists who have to pass such unpredictable bicyclists (aka “Salmon” after the fish who swim up river) as last minute decisions as to how to pass someone when there are no rules for such behavior can result in collisions, swerves into traffic, etc.

For more convincing graphical presentations and resources read more here courtesy of John Allen’s Bicycle Facilities, Laws and Programs pages.   From that web page:

“…riding on a sidewalk is not necessarily safer and in fact, …the risk is approximately four times that of riding on the roadway with traffic.”

Visualizing sidewalk conflicts

This graphic helps visualize all the possible sidewalk conflicts (courtesy Cycling Savvy).

If you’d like to learn more about why it’s safer to ride in the road and exactly WHERE to ride in the road you should review the great animations on this website courtesy of the Cycling Savvy folks at Commute Orlando.  This one in particular shows you where and why you should ride out in the travel lane.  This page of theirs gives a great one-page tutorial on where, how (& why) to ride safely.

Riding Safe Tips

Once you’ve got your basic safety equipment all set (see below for our recommendations), the next major area of keeping safe while you ride is how you ride and react to aggressive or clueless motorists/pedestrians/other cyclists. The Bicycle Safe website lists common types of bike-to-motorist accidents and how to avoid them. The League of Illinois Bicyclists has a video on the topic of riding safely and defensively on the roads.

If you’re interested in learning more about safe bike riding, consider taking a class from the MSU Bikes Service Center. We occasionally offer classes focused on this topic. Drop us an e-mail and get on our bike classes wait list at


The Bike Helmet:  Cheap insurance.  Example of the kind of helmets we normally stock.

The Bike Helmet: Cheap insurance.

We highly recommend the use of helmets when riding around campus – or anywhere, for that matter. We had a student wearing a helmet stop by the Service Center who shared one of the simplest summaries we’ve ever heard for why wearing a helmet makes sense:”When people say ‘helmets look stupid,’ I just say ‘Would you rather look stupid or be stupid?

  • If you’re not convinced, perhaps you’d like to read some stories about helmets saving lots of lives? (presented by the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute).
  • The MSU Bike Project’s co-founder, Gus Gosselin, has his own story about how his helmet saved his life a few years back, so you don’t have to go far to know it’s worth it.
  • Here’s a great site called “Safety is Sexy” to help people see helmets as sexy (yes, sexy); has a ton of great materials, photos, videos, etc. promoting bike helmets and other bike safety issues.
  • There was a British study published back in 2006 that concluded wearing a helmet and dressing like an experienced bicyclist resulted in motorists passing closer than if you wore no helmet and especially if you appeared to be female.  There has been a lot more research published since then including some excellent lampooning of that British study; see a summary of all that here.  The summary is published by the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute.

Eye Protection

Protecting your eyes is highly recommended while you’re riding.  Use tinted during the day and clear for riding after hours or in low-light conditions. Prices range from bargain basement on up.

MSU Bike Safety Video

Check out this bike safety video that a group of MSU Communications Arts students (directed by Katelyn Patterson, they were all volunteers on this project) created for AOP bike tours done in previous years.  Using a bit of slap-stick humor hopefully makes the sometimes boring subject more entertaining.


Using fenders will keep your tires from picking up road debris and throwing it in your eyes. Most people associate fenders with keeping water and mud off yourself, but overlook the protection they provide your eyes. We stock a good supply and variety of them.

Bells and Horns

Airzound air horn for bikes

The Airzound – a very loud horn that can be reinflated with any air pump.

Yes, we’re all about bells and horns, too. How many pedestrians, cyclists, motorists are busy talking on their cell phones or listening to their iPods or other radios? Get yourself a nice little bell for letting peds know you’re about to pass them and then consider something stronger like the AirZound Bike Horn for getting yourself noticed by motorists in no uncertain terms. We stock a good selection of bells and horns, including the AirZound.

Michigan Law, Legal assistance and case studies

The League of Michigan Bicyclists has published a very nice summary of the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code which pertains to bicycling here.  They’ve also  published a number of legal columns by two Michigan attorneys (Sarah W. Colegrove and Todd E. Briggs) who specialize in litigating bicycling-related cases. You can read those past columns and get their contact information here.

What to do when hit by a car

We have many bicyclists come into our shop having just had an accident and way too often they report not having reported the incident and telling the driver they’re OK and not getting names or anything only later to find out that they’re injured or that their bike is damaged beyond repair.  Don’t let this happen to you.

The following list is excerpted from an LMB legal column in the site referenced above.

  • Don’t admit liability by stating the accident was your fault.
  • Call the police (911 if there are serious injuries) and make a report.  (The MSU Police non-emergency number is 517-355-2222 for non life-threatening injury accidents).
  • Get driver’s contact and insurance information.
  • Get witnesses’ statements and contact information.
  • Get the officer’s precinct number and contact information.
  • Seek immediate medical treatment for injuries.
  • Report incident to your auto insurance company.
  • Report incident to your homeowners/renters insurance company.
  • Take photos of crash scene, injuries and bicycle.
  • Request copy of police report.
  • Keep folder of all crash information (notes, receipts, log, insurance information, etc.)
  • Contact an attorney to advise you of your rights.

MSU’s commitment to improving traffic safety

In 1995, MSU’s administration made the decision to make improvements to campus roads to improve traffic safety. This has resulted in a drop in automobile-related accidents that result in injuries to approximately 90 percent fewer accidents as of the 2008 accident report. As a result, not only have hundreds of potential accidents been avoided, but MSU was awarded an Outstanding Contributions to Traffic Safety Award from the Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Commission in 2006. Click here to read the award announcement.

A new campus policy calling for their construction/ addition to all new road projects was also adopted at the same time to improve bicycling safety and reduce accidents with automobiles and pedestrians. MSU is approximately 60 percent done with installing bike lanes on all campus (MSU-controlled) roads as of the end of the 2012 construction season.

The All University Traffic and Transportation Committee  advises MSU’s Chief of Police on traffic and transportation safety issues and serves as a way for the campus community to have input to the administration regarding related issues or concerns to include parking of all vehicles (motorized and non-motorized). Their Comment form is a great way to report problems or concerns on campus and now features a new mapping tool w/ the ability to upload photos w/ your submission.

Questions or suggestions for more safety information?

We’d love to add more to this page.   Have a story or a tip you’d like to share?  Comment below or contact Tim Potter at

Bike Registration and Impoundment

A load of impounded bikes ready to haul away.

A load of impounded bikes ready to haul away.


MSU’s primary bike cleanup/ impounding starts each year after move-out and continues for several weeks.  Impounding does occur throughout the year but mostly for the most serious offenses or in response to complaints by staff.

Consider using our enhanced security MSU Bike Garages to keep your bike protected from the weather, vandalism, theft, accidental impoundment, etc.



Example new and improved impound tag

Example new and improved impound tag listing all the reasons that a bike might get impounded.


Registering your bike is not only required by the MSU ordinance it is a very helpful service in other respects that you might not think about.

  • Registration (a free process that gets you a permit or sticker with a unique number) proves your ownership of your bike.  This helps the police (not only the MSU Police but other police outside of campus) be able to contact you if your bike happens to get stolen.  It also helps you prove to the police that you own the bike if you need them to cut your lock (if you lose your key or break it off in the lock; pretty common problem in the colder months on campus).
  • How to get an MSU DPPS permit?  You can easily apply for one online, they’re free and will come to you through the mail in a few days.  Go to this page and click the “online” link in the 3rd paragraph to begin the process.  If you need additional help finding your bike’s serial number refer to this web page.
  • Where to put the permit?  We see many creative placements of permits which may result the impounding staff not seeing your permit and impounding it.  See photos below so you know exactly where to put your permit.
Where you should place your permit

Where you should place your permit – under the seat on the frame where it’s easy to spot for impounding staff.

Where you should place your permit 1




Since MSU has over 20,000 bikes on campus the university has rules regarding bikes that are breaking those rules (improperly locked up, abandoned, no registration, etc.).  Go to this page to learn all about the impounding process at MSU so your bike doesn’t get thrown in the bike slammer.

Michigan’s Bike Related Laws

If you wonder about the applicable laws related to bicycling in Michigan here’s a great page that summarizes them all.

Dude, Where’s My Bike!?

Where's my bike?

Worst example of how to NOT lock your bike. Click pic for more. Photo courtesy:

‘How to recover a stolen bike and reduce your chances of being a victim’

Being a busy bike shop in the middle of a campus of 20,000+ bicyclists you can imagine that we’ve fielded a few emails and stories about stolen bikes and given this topic A LOT of thought.   Most people  ask, “what do I do now?”.   Some, unfortunately give up on bicycling altogether after getting one or more stolen.

Our best advice for AFTER-THEFT action:

1.  CRITICAL!  Assuming the bike is worth the effort, always report it to at least one police department so that the serial number and other key features are on file in their database(s) which pawn shops and others also refer to state wide and sometimes nation wide.

Stripped bike on campus

Don’t let this happen to your bike!

2.  BEST IDEA! To avoid spending countless hours scouring eBay and Craigslist, etc. to find your bike,  create a Google Alert which means you give Google some key words and your email address and anytime Google finds something online that matches your keywords you’ll get an email! Google search-bots will do it for you!

3.  Stop by the area pawn shops to check their inventory and leave them a flyer with a photo, serial number, etc. so that they’ll be aware and put on notice if someone comes trying to sell it.  Often times serial numbers are very hard to find and/ or difficult to read for numerous reasons, so some pawn shops may unknowingly have stolen bikes for sale.

4.  Post your stolen bike info. incl. photos and all other unique identifying items (serial number especially) to a new Facebook group recently created ( ) and get some other eyeballs out there for you as some thieves will likely stay offline to launder stolen bikes.

For those of you reading this BEFORE a theft, here’s my best advice:

Anti-theft skewers for wheels to replace the 'quick release' type that require no tools to loosen.
Anti-theft skewers for wheels to replace the ‘quick release’ type that require no tools to loosen.
  1. Secure any components that have quick-release mechanisms with anti-theft type mechanisms that require a special tool to loosen.  Seats and wheels are commonly stolen when they have quick releases as well as lights and other nice accessories.  Anti-theft skewers for wheels to replace the ‘quick release’ type that require no tools to loosen. Anti-theft skewers for wheels to replace the ‘quick release’ type that require no tools to loosen.
  2. Take detailed photos of your cherished bikes NOW before anything happens to them and record your serial number!  Be sure to document any unique features especially certain scratches (aka your bike’s ‘birth-mark’) that would prove your ownership.  While you’re at it put a rider on your home/ renters insurance with that information.  Keep your receipts of purchase too.
  3. Use the best lock you can afford (U-shaped locks are generally the strongest when used correctly) if you want to prevent theft of your bike.
  4. Lock your bike correctly (for examples of both good and bad locking techniques see pics in this gallery) to a good bike rack or, lacking a good rack, to something that’s not movable and/or easily cut.
  5. Lock your bike in an area that’s highly visible; more secluded areas tend to have more theft as fewer people can potentially catch them in the act; thieves prefer to work when it’s dark and where it’s dark.
  6. If your bike is flashy (i.e. newer, bright colors), and expensive it’s best to NOT lock up outside at night ever; bring your bike inside at night to avoid potential thieves/ vandals.
  7. If you have the option on a large rack park your bike in the middle somewhere and not on the ends.  Bikes on the ends tend to attract thieves and drunks who apparently enjoy kicking bike wheels.  Maintenance trucks, mowers, etc. also tend to hit the bikes on the ends.

More anti-theft tips:

Ever forget your lock and need to lockup for a quick visit to a store or cafe?  Here are a few quick tips:

  • Take your whole bike inside with you; if the staff protest remove (and take it with you) just your front wheel and that will deter most would-be thieves.
  • For older bikes open the quick-release on your rear wheel; as soon as the would-be thief tries to ride off the rear wheel will shift in the frame and lockup (only works on bikes without vertical drop-outs).
  • If you have a newer bike you can remove the front wheel quick-release skewer and pull the wheel out of the fork and set it next to the bike to make it appear broken/ unrideable.
  • Use your helmet and strap it thru one of your wheels and frame; it will deter someone trying a quick ‘grab and ride’ theft.
  • This one is more complex, only works with certain brakes and requires some forethought: adjust one of your brakes with the release in the open position then close it when necessary to lock your brake much like a parking brake on a car.  The bike won’t roll until the brake release is opened.
  • Check out the late Sheldon Brown’s page of additional clever anti-theft tips.

Learn to Ride a Bike!

Metal Skuut balance bike in action

Metal Skuut balance bike in action – click photo for more info. on Skuut balance bikes.

We occasionally get inquiries about how to learn to ride a bike.  While I have offered one-on-one sessions for people just outside our shop there is a very simple way to learn that just about anyone can use to learn.  It’s the method of learning using a “balance bike” rather than “training wheels”.  I’ve used the method to teach grown youth (10-12 yrs. old) within an hour and some of the videos I’ve seen say within 30 min. for younger kids (which I’m assuming is due to them being generally less scared of falling than older people).

In a nutshell, ‘balance’ bikes are like a normal bike except they have no pedals and are designed to help the person figure out how to balance while rolling.  Typically the seats are much lower than on a bike with pedals so that the person can easily touch the ground to help avoid a crash while learning to balance.  A smooth grassy area with a slight decline is the ideal place to learn so that if there is a crash the person doesn’t get hurt. Once the person can roll for 3-5 seconds with their feet up (might take a bunch of times up and down the same hill) then it’s time to put the pedals on and raise the seat a couple inches and encourage them to pedal (on the same grassy hill).  Once they’re able to put the pedaling together with the balance without crashing on the grass then get them on a smooth hard surface (away from traffic and other objects) and encourage them to keep trying the pedaling and within a short while most will begin bicycling!

Here are some videos that will show you how this is done:

This is one of the best I’ve seen: “Teach kids how to ride a bike in 30 minutes or less”

Here’s one showing adults learning using the balance bike method too showing that it works for older people as well!

If you need a smaller bike in order to teach yourself or a child using this method you can rent a bike from us or contact the Share a Bike program in E. Lansing to see if they would loan you a smaller bike for teaching, or you might be able to acquire one from them via a donation (contact them for details).

Good luck learning!

Avoiding Flat Tires


Panaracer tire with Tour Guard, a kevlar based material that greatly reduces flats.

Panaracer Pasela tire with ProTex, a kevlar-based material that greatly reduces flats.  I ride these tires (1 flat in over 6000 mi. of riding up and down Grand River Ave!).  We keep a wide selection of these tires and other tires with flat protection in stock.

Most bicyclists are all too familiar with that sinking feeling you get when you hear a hissing sound coming from one of your tires.  A tire or tube puncture might mean anything from an hour delay in your travels to a day or more out of commission.  Fortunately, the MSU Bikes (just under the Bessey Hall Auditorium off the River Trail with a convenient ramp right up to our door) staff are very familiar with this issue in our daily quest to keep the 20,000 plus bicyclists rolling back and forth from home to class.  We regularly stock (but can also special order just about anything!) a selection of anti-puncture solutions that I’d highly recommend you consider BEFORE you get stranded and BEFORE we get busy with spring!  There are three good options (from inexpensive to more expensive):

Pinch-Flat example

Pinch-Flat example – the rim essentially punctures the tube in two places simultaneously when it bottoms out on the pavement, pothole, etc.

FREE Tip:  Keeping your tires properly inflated helps make your ride much more enjoyable (easier to pedal) it reduces your odds of getting the most common type of flat that we see here in our shop known as a pinch flat or “snake bite” (as it puts two holes in your tube).  The proper pressure for your tires is normally written on the sides of your tires.  Use the lower pressure in the winter and slippery conditions, the higher pressure during the dry, warmer months of the year. We have a free 24/7 air station outside our shop plus there are air pumps at almost every front desk of every residence hall on campus.  Our brochure has a map of campus showing where air pumps are located (pg. 3).

–          Thorn resistant tubes ($8 – 10):  these tubes weigh quite a bit more than standard tubes but are about 3-4 times thicker and thus harder for some objects to puncture keeping you rolling.  We have them in all the common sizes and in both standard American Schrader valves and French style presta valves.

Stop Flats tire liners

Stop Flats tire liners, much lighter than thorn resistant tubes and cheaper than new tires.

–       Tire liners:  ($15-17):  these are installed between your tube and tire to give a protective barrier.  These are considerably lighter than thorn resistant tubes, so if your commute is longer these would be more attractive (weight on your wheels makes a dramatic difference in performance; for every ounce you take off your wheels it’s like taking a pound off the rest of the bike!).   We can order these in 20 in., 26 and 700c sizes.

–          Anti-puncture tires:  ($20 on up):  this is the lightest and most expensive option.  Also happens to be my favorite as my commute is a longish 6 mi. each way and I like to go fast!  Most tire companies offer tires that have anti-puncture properties, some are much better than others in terms of how much protection is provided; we stock a few of the lesser expensive in 26 in., 27 in., and 700c sizes.

Bike Locking Do’s & Don’ts

Example of how NOT to lockup

Example of how NOT to lockup

I was out on campus the other day and saw a pretty nice bike locked up in a particularly bad way which prompted me to take some more pics of other bikes in the same area to show how to both NOT lock up and how to best lock up your bike.  I also included some pics of some helpful anti-theft devices that we sell in our Center to help you avoid becoming a victim out there plus a few examples of what can get your bike impounded by the MSU Police.  Check out the pics here.

The Basic Rules:

  • Use the best lock you can afford (U-shaped locks are generally the strongest when used correctly) if you want to prevent theft of your bike.  We sell a good selection of U-locks and other lesser expensive locks.
  • Lock your bike correctly (see pics in the gallery linked above) to a good bike rack or, lacking a good rack, to something that’s not movable and/or easily cut (on campus the ordinance requires that you lock to bike racks to avoid impoundment).
  • Lock your bike in an area that’s highly visible; more secluded areas tend to have more theft as fewer people can potentially catch them in the act.
  • If your bike is flashy (i.e. newer, bright colors), and expensive it’s best to NOT lock up outside at night ever; use your residence hall bike room if it has one (3/4 of residence halls on campus have them; check at your front desk).
  • Secure any components that have quick-release mechanisms with anti-theft type mechanisms (we sell them in the Center).  Seats and wheels are commonly stolen when they have quick releases.

More anti-theft tips:
Ever forget your lock and need to lockup for a quick visit to a store or cafe?  Here are a few quick tips:

  • Take your front wheel inside with you.
  • Release the quick-release on your rear wheel; as soon as the would-be thief tries to ride off the rear wheel will shift in the frame and lockup (only works on bikes without vertical drop-outs).
  • Use your helmet and strap it thru your rear wheel and frame.
  • This one is more complex, only works with certain brakes and requires some forethought: adjust one of your brakes with the release in the open position then close it when necessary to lock your brake.
  • Check out the late Sheldon Brown’s page of clever anti-theft tips.

U-Lock Woes

U-locked bike

Example of a properly U-locked bike (just don’t forget your key!).

You come out to your locked bike and are in a hurry to get to class.  You quickly jam your key in the lock, try to turn it and it just doesn’t want to turn, so you turn harder, and harder til “SNAP” it goes and now you have to walk or take the bus.  ARRGGHHH!

Does this scenario sound familiar?  Well, you’re not alone.  The good news is that this headache is preventable with a little forethought.

According to a bunch of people who work with thousands of bikes on campuses around the country it seems that virtually every U-lock made will eventually develop rust inside the lock.   When you add ice to the rusty mess opening U-locks can become very frustrating not to mention expensive if you break your key.

Thanks to one of those campus bike specialists,  John Brandt, here’s your solution to eliminating your ‘U-lock Woes':

The simple solution I’ve found is to put an occasional drop of heavy oil on the moving parts of the locking mechanism that engage the u-bar portion of the lock.  Some of the lube may find its way back into the lock tumblers, but in every case I’ve worked on it’s the sliding-locking-bar/pin that was the problem.  Simple lubrication seems to prevent the problem from ever occurring and usually fixes it if it does.

Lubing a U-lock - pic 1

Where to lube your U-lock.


  • take the lock apart into its two parts
  • set the u-portion aside, it’s just an inert piece of metal
  • turn the key to make the lock mechanism move to the locked position
  • as you turn the key, look into the holes where the u-portion fits
  • some u-locks will only lock one side, other will lock at both ends (photo shows a one-sided mechanism)
  • drip several drops of machine oil (or chain lube) onto the part that you see moving when you turn the key; this is the sliding-locking-bar/pin that engages the u-portion (see photo below)
  • work the key back and forth a few times to get the oil between the moving parts
  • once they move smoothly again, the key should no longer bind and you’re good to go

Even with a frozen/stuck u-lock, there is one thing you can try as long as the key isn’t broken off in the lock and unable to be removed.  Squirt copious amounts of a thin penetrating oil (like WD-40) down the tiny seams where the u-portion enters both sides of the bar of the u-lock (see photo below).  Do it on both sides and don’t be shy with the amount; flood it good.  Squirt a tiny bit right into the keyhole, too, just in case.  If you’re willing to wait a few minutes for the oil to penetrate, you may find that the key turns again if you start by gently wiggling it back and forth to help the oil penetrate even further.  That works on better than 90% of the stuck locks I’ve worked on.  I do not use thin oils like WD-40 to lube locks once they’re working again; it washes off too quickly so I use a heavy lube for that.

Lubing a U-lock - pic 2

Where to lube a U-lock for preventative maintenance.

For preventive maintenance:

  • Check your lock whenever you lube your chain
  • If the turning key seems to bind or turn stiffly, re-lube those parts (you already have your lube in your hand)
  • Prevention is key.  If you leave your bicycle outside in the rain a lot, lube the lock more often;  the more it rains, the more often you should re-lube the mechanism
  • I use a non-greasy lube (Poxylube) for my keyholes so my key doesn’t always come out greasy and stain my pockets( ), but I prefer a heavy lube for the mechanism because it doesn’t wash off as fast.  (MSU Bikes sells Pedro’s Syn Lube which is a great heavier lube for both your lock and your chain)

My bikes don’t live outside 24/7 like many others do, but I lube all my locks once a year and I’ve never had a problem with any of my u-locks in over 20 years.

John Brandt
Safety, Security & Transportation Manager
The Universities at Shady Grove, MD

Comparing Bike Lubes


This is the way you should apply your oil NOT with a spray can. Spray-on oils can get overspray all over your rear rim which causes brake failure. Photo courtesy

Because wet winter roads covered with salt are really harsh on chains and the rest of your bike, one of the most common questions we get in the bike shop is what type of lube is best to use. The short anwer is that dry lubes are for dry conditions and wet lubes are for wet conditions.

Dry lubricants go on wet but dry to a wax. The wax is resistant to dust or dirt and therefore works good in conditions when there is a lot of dust and dirt present. Off-road riders especially will benefit from a wax lube when the ground is dry and dusty.  These types of lubes do not hold up to  wet conditions and will wash off with prolonged exposure to water.

We sell the following dry lubricants:

  • Tri-Flow Superior Dry Lubricant – affordable and easy to use. Apply and go.
  • Boeshield’s T-9 -higher performance dry lube that will also protect better in wet conditions. However, this lube should be allowed to set up for a couple hours after application. It is a bit more expensive.

Wet lubricants go on wet and stay wet after application. They are great for rainy and wet conditions and won’t wash away(as quickly) but attract dirt and debris and therefore should be avoided in dry, dusty conditions.

We sell the following wet lubricants:

  • Tri-Flow Superior Lubricant – thin, wet lubricant for average conditions. Penetrates easily and quickly. Good for most types of riding during summer and fall months.
  • Tri-Flow Soy Lubricant – used for same conditions as the Superior Lubricant. This is an environmentally friendly lube that is formulated with natural soy oil and  biodegrades rapidly. It does require more frequent application.
  • Pedro’s SynLube – thick, wet lubricant. Great for extremely wet and sloppy conditions. Our number one choice for winter riding, as it doesn’t wash off as quickly as other wet lubes. The higher viscosity means it takes a little longer to penetrate into tight places.

    Tri-Flow lubes

    We stock both wet and dry Tri-Flow lubes shown here.

For the best results of any lubricant it is important to start with a clean chain. With any lube you should give it a minute to penetrate after application and then wipe off the excess so it doesn’t get all over the rim of your bike (which can cause your rear brakes to stop working), your pants, your carpeting, etc.  A dripping-wet chain also attracts more grime leading to a real nasty chain that wears out your whole drivetrain much faster than a clean one.

A lighter lube like the Tri-Flow Superior Lubricant, is excellent for keeping other components of your bike lubricated and help prevent them from seizing up.  We recommend a drop of this lube on the pivots or hinges of your derailleurs (the things that shift your gears) and your brake pivot bolts (NOT your brake pads!) to keep them moving smoothly.  Salt water can and will get inside your brake and shift cables and cause them to get  sticky or completely seize from rust and ice, so a little Tri-Flow inside the cable housing will help keep them sliding smoothly.

Finally, Tri-Flow is excellent for bringing a rusty or sticky lock mechanism back to life.  It’ll also help keep it from freezing up by chasing out water.
Stop by the shop any time and we’ll look your bike over for no charge and give you more specific recommendations and estimates for getting it back in shape for spring!

Use Caution When Buying a Used Bike

Used bikes can look to be in good shape, but hide expensive problems.

Buying a used bike seems like a great, affordable option to many people. However, this is often not the case. I’ve seen many people purchase a used bike for $5 and be very disappointed when they learned that the cost to make the bike safe and rideable was over $100.

If you are considering buying a used bike that needs work, you should be informed on what to look for. Recognize what repairs will be needed and what brands to avoid. Many used bikes are simply not worth fixing up.

Recognizing Problems

All bikes will eventually require maintenance. Most used bikes will need the following repairs:

Chain: Replacing the chain is unavoidable for any bike that has enough miles on it. If during a test ride the chain seems to slip or lurch forward while pedaling, the chain and freewheel need to be replaced.

Brake and Shift Adjustments: These systems fall out of adjustment with use and require occasional tuning. Rusted or corroded cables and worn brake pads are another common problem. The cable should slide smoothly and the brake arms and derailleurs should move freely. Cable replacements require a readjustment of the system.

Wheel truing: Wheels with uneven spoke tension require a ‘true’. Untrue wheels will spin asymmetrically and can interfere with braking.

Bearing adjustments: On many bikes it is common for the bearings of the headset, the hubs, and the bottom bracket to become loose. If you can rock the wheels or crankarms side to side, or the headset inside the frame, the bearings are loose and need adjustment. Very loose bearings on cheap wheels often don’t hold adjustments, and require a wheel replacement.

Some used bikes will have additional problems you should be on the lookout for.

Missing or Bent Wheels: Severely bent wheels cannot be repaired and require replacement. If the wheel is damaged, the tire, tube, and freewheel can be moved to a new wheel.  If the wheel is missing completely, all those items will have to be purchased in addition to the wheel.

Missing or Loose Crankarms: Crankarms must be tightened onto the bottom bracket with the appropriate torque. If they are installed too loosely, they can begin to rock, spin, or fall off. This movement often damages the crankarm and a new one must be installed.

Bent Forks and Frames: While bent frames and forks can be difficult to spot, you should be aware of the possibility of this damage on used bikes. Depending on the severity, a bent frame or fork can make the bike unsafe to ride.

Choosing A Bike

The above repairs are very common and ones I see on almost all recently purchased used bikes. If you are considering buying a used bike, budget between $100 and $130 for necessary repairs and maintenance to make your bike safe and rideable.

When it comes to department store bikes (Huffy, Pacific, Magna), it’s often cheaper to buy the same model new than it is to repair a used one. This isn’t necessarily a better option however, because cheap department store bikes will eventually require these repairs anyway. (Sometimes immediately, as these bikes are not assembled by trained mechanics and often require tune-ups when brand new.) Even after a full tune up, a department store bike is still made of cheap materials that break and come out of adjustment easily. My advice is to avoid purchasing department store bikes, new or used.

Bike shop brand bikes (Fuji, Trek, Specialized, Giant, ect.) can be worth fixing up, depending on the amount of repairs needed. Remember to look the bike over thoroughly and estimate what all will need to be done. These brands hold adjustments longer and do not break as easily.

It can be overwhelming to diagnose what repairs a bike needs. A simpler option is to purchase an already tuned used bike. While this may seem more expensive up front, all the additional repairs have been done for you. You can ride assured that the bike is safe and should last many years.

Shifting and Gear Use

Bicycle gears are intended to make the cyclist’s ride more comfortable, but many riders are unfamiliar with or intimidated by their gears. I’ve heard many novice riders exclaim that their gears are too confusing, and so they always ride in the same gear combination.

Bicycle gears are much easier to use than many people think. Learning to shift can make your rides more enjoyable and help you get the best use out of your bike. In this post I will define the parts of the drivetrain, describe how the gears work, and explain how and when to use them.

Thanks to for use of this image.

Let’s start with some basic terminology. Clicking on the image to the left will bring up a larger view.

The front derailleur moves the chain across the chainrings. In this image, there are only 2 chainrings. However, many bikes have 3, and some only have 1. (A bike with only one chainring will not have a front derailleur.)

The rear derailleur moves the chain across the cogs of the freewheel. (Sometimes called a cassette, but for the purposes of this article, I will use the term freewheel.) The number of cogs on freewheels vary, but 7 or 8 are common. A ’21 speed’ bike has 3 chainrings and 7 cogs.

A cable connects each shifter to its derailleur. Tension on the cable pulls the derailleur one direction, and a spring in the derailleur pulls it in the other direction.

Now that you’re familiar with the parts of the drivetrain, let’s look at each system more closely. We’ll use a 21 speed bike as an example.

The Front Shifter & Derailleur

The front derailleur is controlled by the left shifter. Many shifters are marked in some way, often numbered or with an ‘H’ for the high gear and an ‘L’ for the low gear.

The ‘1’ or ‘L’ refers to the innermost chainring (closest to the bike). This chainring delivers the least resistance and is useful for very steep inclines or soft terrain. The ‘3’ or ‘H’ refers to the outermost chainring (closest to the pedal). This chainring produces the most resistance and is useful for maintaining speed.

For mostly flat areas, like MSU’s campus, many riders find the 2nd (middle) chainring to be the most comfortable. Beginner riders may find it simpler to leave the chain on this chainring and only worry about shifting the rear derailleur.

The Rear Shifter & Derailleur

The rear derailleur is controlled by the right shifter. On a 7 speed shifter, ‘1’ or ‘L’ refers to the innermost cog. This cog gives the least resistance. ‘7’ or ‘H’ refers to the outermost cog, which produces the most resistance.

It can be confusing for some people that the highest gears correspond to the physically largest chainring but the physically smallest cog. It is better to ignore the size of the gears and remember that the inner gears are lower and the outer gears are higher in both front and back.

If your shifters are not marked, I recommend experimenting with shifting to see where the chain goes. You can them mark your shifters appropriately with a marker or tape.

When & How to Use Your Gears

So what gears should you use, and when? The main thing to remember is that the lower gears produce the least resistance and the higher gears produce the most resistance. Lower gears will give you the advantage in climbing hills and riding on loose terrain like sand. Higher gears will help you gain speed and power and prevent you from needing to pedal as fast. If you feel that the gear you are in is too hard, you should shift to a lower gear. If you are spinning your legs around a mile a minute and feel like you are not getting anywhere, you’ll want to shift to a higher gear. Remember to continue pedaling during shifting.

Shifting bicycle gears is much less complicated than shifting a manual transmission car. It is not necessary to always begin and end in the first gear. However, to make it easy on yourself, you should start in an easy gear and shift to higher gears as you gain speed. Shifting to lower gears as you slow down will ensure the bike is in an easy gear when you start again.

There are a few gear combinations to avoid. Riding with the chain in the innermost chainring and outermost cog (or the outermost chainring and innermost cog) puts a lot of stress on the chain because it is stretched sideways. Riding in these combinations will wear the chain prematurely.

Putting it to Use

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different gear combinations. The ‘right’ gear combo will depend on the terrain, the rider, and their speed, so the best way to learn is to play around and discover what works best for you. As you get familiar with the feel of the gears, you can begin to anticipate what gear combination will be best for upcoming terrain and obstacles. If you are approaching a hill, you’ll know whether or not you’ll need to downshift. It’s a good idea to shift a little earlier than when the gear is needed. That way you can carry your momentum instead of running out of steam.

Hopefully you are less intimidated by your bike’s gears and are now ready to try them out. If you’re still confused, bring your bike in to MSU Bikes (or take it to your local shop) and ask for a demonstration.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 266 other followers

%d bloggers like this: